Media Perspective: How Generation Y's ADHD is affecting media consumption

A few weeks ago, Ofcom published its 2010 Communications Market Report.

It's a 378-page beast and, like the Bible, difficult to know where to start. But one stat drew me in: the average person gets eight-and-a-quarter hours' sleep a night. Meaning a significant proportion of people get more than eight, which in itself is significantly more than me. Aggrieved and seeking justice (the best way to consume research, I find), I read on. And I'm glad I did - not because of any sleep-related epiphany, but because nestled inside this dense report is, perhaps, a glimpse of our media future.

This new study effectively offers a redefinition of the digital divide. Instead of obsessing with the difference in technology take-up between young and old, it explores a different angle - "simultaneous media activity". Or, in other words, Googling on your laptop while watching The X Factor on TV and playing text ping pong with a friend. We're increasingly multi-tasking through our media day, spending seven hours a day consuming media, but cramming eight hours, 48 minutes of media into that time due to simultaneous activity. Generation Y-ers do it most (more than half their media activity is concurrent) - a kind of default state of ADHD or a skill for multi-tasking, depending on how you see it.

So what? Well, first, in terms of communications, it's going to get harder to know what's working. Someone may be clicking online footage or bookmarking content, but if they're also listening to Spotify and half-watching Family Guy on TV, it doesn't necessarily follow that a high level of interaction with advertising means a high level of engagement. Recent work from Brainjuicer suggests that the best measure of TV effectiveness isn't awareness or recall but to what degree the ad makes us happy. Perhaps as we increasingly multi-task, it'll be the media activity that makes us happy that will create brand value.

Second, how many campaigns take advantage of simultaneous media use? Certainly more campaigns are "layering" technology into the solution (check out Arcade Fire's use of Google Earth in their new video), and more campaigns are using different channels for different bits of the story - but that's not the same thing. Channel 4's Skins and Nike Grid are notable exceptions, but the opportunity to tell live and evolving stories with input from audiences across multiple channels is still there for the taking.

The research also suggests that, for now, we still crave some neurological calm at the end of the day. At 9pm, "simultaneous" media has its lowest daily share as we sit back, mainline peak TV and drool on to our chins ... high-value media real-estate both financially and psychologically. Then sleep - and more of it than I seem to be getting, goddammit!

Ian Darby is away.

- Stuart Sullivan-Martin is the chief strategy officer at MEC.